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Obesity ‘increases Covid death risk by 50%’ and ‘could impact vaccine efficacy’

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Obesity is associated with an almost 50% increased risk of death in people with Covid-19, research has concluded.

A meta-analysis of 75 studies found that a BMI over 30 was associated with a 48% higher risk of death, a 113% higher risk of hospitalisation and 74% higher risk of admission to intensive care.

People with obesity had a 46% higher risk of a positive Covid-19 test according to the analysis.

The US-based researchers also raised concerns in their paper in Obesity Reviews that obesity may reduce the efficacy of any Covid-19 vaccine through the same mechanisms that put people at higher risk of infection in the first place urging ‘that any vaccine trials and studies include BMI as a potential confounder for vaccine effectiveness and protection’.

They added that metabolic changes caused by obesity – such as insulin resistance and inflammation – can make it difficult for individuals with obesity to fight some infections as has been shown in influenza and hepatitis.

And obesity is associated with numerous underlying risk factors for Covid-19 including hypertension, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and chronic kidney and liver disease.

Public Health England has already recommended targeted interventions to tackle obesity in a bid to reduce Covid-19 deaths.

Excess weight affects two-thirds of the English population but particularly those aged 55-74 and some BAME groups, PHE said.

Study leader Professor Barry Popkin from the department of nutrition at the UNC Gillings Global School of Public Health said the findings – based on data from around the world including Italy, France, the UK, the US and China – highlight why governments must implement strong public health policies proven to reduce obesity at a population level.

‘Given the significant threat Covid-19 represents to individuals with obesity, healthy food policies can play a supportive – and especially important – role in the mitigation of Covid-19 mortality and morbidity,’ he said.

A draft NICE guideline proposed for QOF inclusion says GPs should refer all obese patients – over a quarter of the UK population – to weight management services.

Meanwhile, GPs have questioned the Government’s decision to scrap Public Health England in the midst of the ongoing pandemic, especially in light of the increased risks to people with underlying health conditions.


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